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Century boy Rory Best really is the best in show for proud Irish

By Jonathan Bradley

When a captain is one who leads by example, his actions must speak volumes and such is the case with Rory Best.

Just look at how he handled himself in the minutes following the final whistle of his landmark 100th cap.

The first Ulsterman to hit the mark, and just the fifth Irish player, those around him were understandably keen to show their appreciation.

Having been roared on to and off the pitch, the Aviva Stadium was ready to show its appreciation for a third and final time but for Best the plaudits could wait.

More: Triple crown over southern hemisphere sides rates as greatest Irish achievement

Before all that he had to congratulate Josh van der Flier, a player very much at the other end of the scale when it comes to Test caps and who had earned man-of-the-match honours in a clash he wasn't even due to start until Sean O'Brien went down late in the week.

When the Poyntzpass man did get in front of the cameras, he said he could take no credit for what Ireland have achieved this month, while thanking everyone from team-mates, coaches, family and his club in Banbridge, before departing the scene to be with family.

Wife Jodie (right) was waiting pitchside with children Ben, Penny, and Richie for a photograph sure to adorn the mantelpiece in the Best family home for years to come, but first the skipper stopped for a snap with a fan in a wheelchair.

In what was undoubtedly his moment, he was sure to make memories for others.

Best is a good talker, just not one prone to hyperbole. Coming as he does from farming stock, it would be appropriate to say he calls a spade a spade, and as such, he may have been taken aback by the superlatives thrown his way this week.

Afterwards, deep in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium, he admitted it had been overwhelming.

"It's obviously very special," he reflected.

"When I got the first, I never dreamed I would get 100. "To do it at the Aviva, it was incredibly special.

"Personally, this week has shown why Irish rugby is such a special place to be around. The amount of support and well-wishers has been really special. It shows why it's so special to be in that green jersey."

After joking that he hoped somebody had documented his father John showing the emotions of the day, Best hailed his young team-mates and what they had produced to beat Australia despite playing an entire half without key men Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne, Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Sean O'Brien.

Thinking back to the World Cup, when five key men were lost on the eve of facing Argentina and hopes of a semi-final place went down with them, the added depth has been remarkable to witness this year.

"We talk about a squad and to lose Johnny and Robbie, and then Sean so late, you just hope the squad steps up.

"It's something that, especially the last 12 months, we've worked really hard on.

"We had a tough old start to the Six Nations with so many injured, and the same in South Africa, but you're starting to see the rewards of it.

"They're such a great bunch of guys to captain and to be around. "I suppose at this stage, it's still really fun playing and training.

"The coaches make it so most of the time - other times they give us dog's abuse. "It's a really good balance. For me, for 100 caps, it was very special, to have to make the changes that we did during the game.

"First of all you ask guys to fit in, and out of position that's hard. You just ask them to show a stomach for the fight and every man who stepped onto the pitch did that.

"That's all you can ask. It wasn't perfect but it was enough."

The last man to lead a side past all three Southern Hemisphere powers in the same year was England's Martin Johnson in 2003, with Best pleased to answer at least some questions raised by last year's World Cup.

"It's obviously a pretty big achievement," he said. "To do it with so many players is a good sign for us and the depth that we're building. After the World Cup, there was all this talk about the gap from the northern hemisphere to the south.

"We didn't feel there was a gap 12 months ago and that's probably the biggest thing for us. We feel on our day we can compete with anybody.

"Since Joe came in, it's been about consistency. We were disappointed last week so to turn round and get the result is very important. You have to show that level and we've now shown it against three top nations."

For now, while talk will swirl for the remainder of the season regarding the Lions, Best's focus is on regaining Ireland's Six Nations crown and, in the even more immediate future, getting Ulster's season on track.

"I think we look back at the entire autumn and know we've a lot of work to do but it puts us in good stead going forward.

"The boys will go off and there'll be some very interesting derbies over Christmas and European games.

"Some feel they're in a good place to progress and others, like us, will need to up the performance.

"It's in good stead as long as we keep striving to get better."

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